Aaron Ruben, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was one of those great U.S. TV writer-producers who wasn’t well-known except to his peers. He was also known to obsessive credit-watchers — the people who noticed that Andy Griffith or Sanford and Son were better when the name “Aaron Ruben” appeared in the credits. His greatest achievement was The Andy Griffith Show; he didn’t create it, but he was brought in as producer after the pilot (back when the title of “producer” meant much more than it does now; it was the closest thing to the modern “showrunner” job) and produced the show for its first five seasons.
Mayberry was not only the most popular small town in TV, it was one of the most distinctive achievements in creating a whole world in a television show. As a commenter pointed out in my post on The Simpsons, TAGS was an earlier example of a show where bit players grew into fully-developed characters who could have episodes built around them. And that’s as much the work of Aaron Ruben as anyone. Gomer Pyle got so popular that he got his own spinoff (created by Ruben) but he was only one of many characters who owe their fame, in part, to Ruben.
Ruben’s work on the first five years of Andy Griffith and the first three of Sanford and Son will be his main legacy, but of course, like most career comedy writers, he had tons of credits — not only in television, but in radio — and the obituary barely begins to summarize them. But fortunately he was interviewed for the Archive of American Television, and the interview is online.